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Las Vegas churches open doors for public concerts

They’re not a ploy to increase church attendance. They’re not a sly tactic to shove religious dogma down anyone’s throat.

They’re all about the joy of music, entertainment and culture and bringing it to the suburbs. They just happen to take place in a house of worship.

A number of Summerlin-area churches are playing host to such events.

“No one’s pressured to attend services. … The whole idea is to have it open to anyone who wants to come,” said Carolyn Wood, the music director for Desert Spring United Methodist Church, 120 N. Pavilion Center Drive .

The church holds music events by Desert Winds throughout the year. Desert Winds is a 40-piece wind ensemble led by conductor Charles Maguire, with concerts focusing on classical music. The series began about five years ago. It s next one is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 2 .

It’s not just classical music that resounds at Desert Spring United Methodist.

The church also has hosted a big-band concert — featuring a 21-piece band and two soloists — playing music from the 1930s and ’40s.

Grace in the Desert Episcopal Church, 2004 Spring Gate Lane, says churches can provide music to soothe the soul.

“We think of the arts as being spiritual,” said Wayne Adams, senior warden at Grace in the Desert.

The church brought old-school R&B, funk, jazz and blues when Geoffrey Castle performed. Another notable name was featured — Florence LaRue of Fifth Dimension fame.

The church even had a concert series a couple of years ago called Hot Summerlin Nights that featured varied acts on Saturday evenings. That saw entertainers such as soloist Raven and Sukuma Avery, a magician .

With Las Vegas being the entertainment capital, there is no lack of talent. Susan Haller, former marketing director for Grace, booked performers from major Strip shows and second-tier entertainers that one would see at a nightclub or on a cruise ship. She said a venue on the Strip would charge between $39 and $100 a ticket.

At many of Grace in the Desert’s shows, the suggested donation was $10. The performer splits proceeds with the church.

Many churches adopt a pass-the-hat approach to charging for the events, where attendees give what they can.

“Not everybody has the money for a ticket,” Wood said. “If you set a price like $10, people may not be able to come.”

Mountain View Presbyterian Church, 8601 Del Webb Blvd., began offering a chamber music series about six years ago. Mark Wherry is the musical director. He also oversees the vocal program at the College of Southern Nevada .

His ties to professional performers means the church often hosts concerts featuring artists from shows such as “The Lion King” and “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular.”

Mountain View also has brought in Madelene Capelle, an opera singer who has performed throughout the world as guest soloist with a number of opera companies and symphonies. She’s scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. May 1.

Its “pass the hat” approach sees the facility taking 10 or 15 percent of the money collected, with the rest going into the pockets of the performers, Wherry said.

An audience of 70 people might result in a performer getting $240, Wherry said, “so I think that’s worth the artist ’s time. Now, five years ago, it would have been closer to $300.”

Is there any act that he wouldn’t consider booking?

“Jazz,” Wherry said, without missing a beat. “Because the themes … let’s just say they don’t belong in a church.”

He recalled booking one such performer before the ramifications came to light. Along with raunchy lyrics, the female singer incorporated suggestive body movements up against part of the pulpit into her act.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what is she doing?’ ” he recalled.

Contact Summerlin and South Summerlin View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 387-2949.

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